March 23, 2013

Why Cancelling Google Reader - Like Cancelling "Star Trek" - Is Entirely Logical

Recently, in The End of Google Reader Is Not the End of the World, I noted that while I would miss Google Reader when it sunsets come July, this is not a cosmic cataclysm by any means, and that many good alternatives in support of RSS feeds exist and are in active development.

But man, judging from some of the reactions around the Web and in mainstream media from Google's announcement, you'd think Google had just triggered the planetary self-destruct mechanism of Altair IV from Forbidden Planet.

Not only are articles bemoaning the coming shutdown of a service that relatively few people really even knew about -- and far fewer regularly used -- commentators are attempting to use the retirement of Reader after nearly eight years (an eon in Internet time) as a signal that Google has lost its way, or can't be trusted, or perhaps kills kittens.

I remember a similar reaction when NBC cancelled the original Star Trek (ST:TOS - "Star Trek: The Original Series" in geek-speak) in 1969 after three seasons (it almost was cancelled at the end of the second season).

You would have thought the world was indeed coming to an end. And just as I'm a heavy user of Google Reader today, I was a big fan of Trek back then. My junior high school (like a middle school today) even had a Star Trek club of which I was a member. Can you guess which character was my special province of expertise? You're probably right.

We were certainly disappointed when the cancellation of Trek was announced. But, truth be told, none of us were very surprised. While it's a fact that NBC wasn't offering the series much love, and its scheduling (remember, no home videotape or DVRs back then) was increasingly problematic, the script quality overall had fallen off drastically as well. The final aired episode -- Turnabout Intruder -- had William Shatner trying to convince us that he had the mind and soul of a female scientist who had stolen his body. That segment was so awful that I almost did a turnabout of my lunch when I originally saw it.

Anyway, the other big problem for the series was that its rating numbers were relatively terrible. It had a highly dedicated audience of what we might call "power viewers" -- but they did not represent a large audience in network television terms of the day.

Put all this together, and it was entirely logical -- as you-know-who would say -- for NBC to end the series.

And in the fullness of time, when conditions were right, Trek was resurrected in various ways. I worked in Hollywood on the first Trek film (ST:TMP - "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"), and while it was no great shakes, it launched a continuing successful franchise that is still expanding today.

Given the current state of RSS, and Reader's low user numbers, Google's upcoming cancellation of Reader is similarly logical.

Any Internet firm that wants to be successful and stay that way in a rapidly changing environment needs to be constantly exploring new areas and moving away from services that are no longer a good fit -- especially when user data can be easily exported and other firms have services ready to fill similar roles -- as is the case with RSS and Reader.

And when you come right down to it, how long is any firm "required" to keep any service going -- especially but not limited to free services, beyond the letter of their Terms of Service? A year? Five? Ten? Fifty? Who's to decide?

Coming from the standpoint of someone who never dreamed decades ago that we'd have such powerful information resources at our fingertips without constantly opening our wallets and paying through the nose to each individual service provider, a part of me is still amazed at how the Internet ecosystem has developed.

That's also why I view with considerable concern the attitudes of those persons who not only complain about Web ads and anonymous personalization systems that help to pay the bills that make this all possible, but who also seem to feel entitled to demand that all of this stay free, essentially forever, in exactly the form they desire. There's a "cut off your nose to spite your face" sensibility in many of their complaints, as if they'd like to see the entire Internet ecosystem crash and burn to make a point. I find that ... disturbing.

In any case, the world survived the cancellation of Trek, and we'll survive the retirement of Reader as well. And just as Trek eventually was renewed and became stronger, there are reasons to believe that RSS -- if it continues to serve a useful purpose -- will also do the same.

This is in fact the sort of evolution that is fundamental for helping ensure the Internet's ability to -- sorry, I can't resist -- live long and prosper.


Posted by Lauren at March 23, 2013 04:16 PM | Permalink
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